It’s almost Valentine’s Day, aka the strange time when strawberries are inexplicably inexpensive during the coldest month of the year (among other things). It’s kind of insane if you think about it. When I was little, I used to make my parents and grandparents read out of the Grimms’ fairytales to me every night, and my favorite story was “The Three Little Men in the Wood.” At one point the protagonist is forced out into the woods in the dead of winter to pick strawberries by order of her dastardly stepmother. By a stroke of magic, she happens upon three little men in a cabin in the woods and agrees to sweep the snow off of their back steps, revealing bright red strawberries underneath. It really says something about modern technology when we don’t even bat an eyelash at a feat that used to be so impossible that it was written into a fairytale.
At any rate, fortunately for us, there’s no need to venture out into a creepy little cabin in a dark and snowy forest to have a delightful Valentine’s Day cake. (And eat it too! Side note – that expression always confused me, because who doesn’t eat the cake once they have it, until I realized that it meant that you can’t literally have a whole intact cake if you eat it, which makes the saying make so much more sense ironically because that would make no sense.) Instead, all it takes is a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up everything you need for a decadent chocolate cake frosted generously with creamy strawberry mousse. Add a drippy topping of chocolate ganache, fluffy whipped cream swirls, and a couple of fancy chocolate dipped strawberries, and you’ve got a very special cake to share with a very special someone(s).
(That someone doesn’t even necessarily have to be someone who isn’t you. Any sized serving is an individually sized serving if you really believe.)
In terms of ingredient amounts for the chocolate-dipped strawberries, as you can probably tell from the photos, you will not need an entire pound of strawberries to garnish the cake. However, when you melt down chocolate (or just plain chocolate chips) to dip the strawberries, it’s much easier to melt more chocolate than you need into a small bowl with a relatively narrow top to be able to dip more of the strawberry at once. At that point, you might as well make more than four strawberries, right? After all, no one in the history of the universe has ever complained about having too many gourmet chocolate-dipped strawberries. To further avoid waste, be careful to rinse and dry each strawberry well before dipping, then add heavy cream to the excess chocolate to make the chocolate ganache instead of melting extra chocolate. On the off chance that you still have too much ganache, add in some warm milk for an extra decadent hot cocoa.
So if you’re looking for a fun and tasty way to celebrate the everyone’s favorite not-actually-a-holiday-because-no-day-off, look no further than this strawberry chocolate layer cake. It’s a little bit of an involved process, but the final result is totally worth the effort (and besides, you’ve totally got this!) Hope you enjoy!
Happy Valentine’s Day,
Strawberry Chocolate Layer Cake
Strawberry Mousse Recipe adapted from Make Fabulous Cakes
Makes one 6″ four layer cake
150 g (1 1/4 cup) flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 tsp instant coffee
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups chopped fresh strawberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. (1 pack) unflavored gelatin
2 cups 35% or heavy cream, chilled
1 lb whole fresh strawberries
4 oz dark chocolate
1 oz white chocolate
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbs granulated sugar
2 oz dark chocolate
3 tbs heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 325º F. Grease four 6″ layer cake pan with butter or oil, then dust with a layer of cocoa powder, shaking off the excess.
Tip: If you don’t own shallow baking pans for baking layer cakes, feel free to use two regular 6″ cake pans and then carefully cut each cake into 2 layers.
- Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
- Melt chocolate by microwaving in 15 second increments and stirring in between. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Dissolve the instant coffee into the milk.
Tip: This is easier if you warm the milk slightly!
- Beat together oil, eggs, yolks, and sugar until well incorporated, then add the coffee milk, vinegar, and vanilla extract and continue beating the mixture.
- Once the melted chocolate is cool enough to comfortably touch but still warm enough to remain melted, slowly add to the liquid mixture while mixing. Continue to beat until well mixed.
- Pour the sifted flour mixture into the liquid ingredients. Gently stir in one direction until the ingredients are just combined.
Tip: Under-mixing is better than over-mixing in this case. A few small (~1/8″ diameter) stray clumps of flour shouldn’t be a problem!
- Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the center of the cake springs back slightly when gently pressed with a finger.
- Set aside to cool completely!
- In a medium bowl, mix together the strawberries, lemon juice, and sugar to macerate (i.e. draw out the liquids via osmosis) for 20 minutes.
- Set aside about 2 tbs of the strawberry juice and mix with 2 tbs water.
- Place another 1/4 cup strawberry juice into a small bowl and add the gelatin powder, allowing the gelatin to bloom for about 5 minutes, or until fully transparent. Puree the remaining macerated strawberry mixture in a food processor.
- Gently microwave the bloomed mixture to fully dissolve the gelatin, then stir the warm gelatin mixture into the pureed strawberries. Set this mixture aside in the refrigerator.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks. At this point, when you lift out the beaters, you should see sharp points that do not curl over.
- Remove the strawberry mixture from the refrigerator and add to the whipped cream, gently folding the mousse with a silicone spatula until no more bright pink streaks remain. Set aside for assembly!
Assembly, part 1:
- Place one layer of the chocolate cake in the center of a large, flat plate.
- Brush about 1 tbs of the diluted strawberry syrup mixture that you set aside earlier over the top of the cake layer.
- Create a collar mold for the cake:
- Cut a long strip of poster board with a width that is about 6x the height of the cake layers.
- Wrap the strip around the cake layer to create a cylindrical collar that fits snugly around the bottom of the cake. Tape to secure.
- Line the inside of the collar with parchment paper, taping to secure.
- Place the collar around the bottom layer of the cake to form a tall cuff to serve as a mold.
- Add a generous layer of strawberry mousse on top of the chocolate cake. Use a metal spatula to smooth out the mousse into a flat, even layer.
- Add another layer of chocolate cake, brush with strawberry syrup, and add more chocolate mousse. Repeat until you place the last chocolate cake layer on top and brush with syrup. You should have about 1/3 of the strawberry mousse left over.
- Chill the cake (along with the excess mousse) in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours to set the mousse.
- Lay out a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper on a baking sheet.
- Melt enough dark chocolate in a narrow, microwave-safe container (like a small bowl) to fully submerge the strawberries. Do so by stirring every 15 seconds. Set aside.
- Dip the strawberries into the melted chocolate until only a small border around the stem remains, gently lift out of the chocolate, and allow any excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl.
Tip: To avoid a little point forming at the bottom of your strawberry from where the chocolate dripped off, after a good amount of the excess chocolate is gone, gently invert the strawberry until the small point flows back to form a smooth surface.
- Gently lay the strawberry sideways onto the prepared baking sheet and repeat for the remainder of your strawberries, re-melting the chocolate by heating for 10 seconds as necessary.
- Melt a small amount of white chocolate in a small bowl, stirring every 15 seconds.
- Place the white chocolate into the corner of a sandwich bag and snip off the very tip to form a small hole for piping.
- Drizzle back and forth over each dried dipped strawberry to form a striped design.
- Allow the strawberries to fully dry, chilling in the refrigerator as desired
- In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, whip the cream and sugar to stiff peaks. At this point, when you lift the beaters out, you should see sharp peaks in the cream that do not curl over.
- Load the whipped cream into a piping bag fitted with an open star tip (I used the Wilton 1M!). Set aside for piping!
- In the microwave, heat the chocolate and heavy cream in 15 second intervals, mixing in between until the chocolate is melted.
Tip: Depending on how much chocolate you used during dipping, you should have plenty left to make ganache. Just melt together any excess chocolate from dipping with approximately 3/4 of the amount in heavy cream, warm until the ganache is runny, and you’re ready to go!
- Load into a small sandwich bag and snip off the corner for drizzling!
Assembly, part 2:
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator and gently peel off the paper cuff.
- Using a large offset metal spatula, frost the cake with the remaining strawberry mousse, smoothing around the sides before leveling the top.
Tip: The mousse may be a little stiff for frosting. If this is the case, gently mix the mousse with the spatula until the mixture softens before applying the frosting.
- Using the sandwich bag as a makeshift piping bag, squeeze out long drips of chocolate ganache over the edges of the cake, then squeeze the remaining ganache on top of the cake to flood the center. As needed, smooth the top gently with a metal spatula.
- Pipe small swirls of whipped cream around the top of the cake, then dust with cocoa powder.
- Decorate with chocolate-dipped strawberries, and chill until you are ready to serve. Enjoy!